Mississippi Gay, Black Political Murder

Marco MacMillian, gay, black Mayoral candidate, murdered in Mississippi

The broken body of Marco MacMillian, a young black gay Clarksdale mayoral candidate, was discovered dumped downhill from a Mississippi River levee on February 26. This blog post is about what has been taking place in Clarksdale since the discovery of his death, including the call by his family and lawyer for a federal investigation.

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(NOTE: I know Clarksdale, Mississippi. I have been writing nonfiction books and articles about the racism, murder and other bad behavior going on in this small city and the entire state for years. My newest book, “The Plan,” is a historical fiction, murder mystery thriller, set for release this August. The Plan opens in New York City, but quickly moves to Clarksdale, in the heart of the Delta, and site of the unexplained murder of a gay, black lawyer, named Clinton Moore.. While it may be a fiction novel, believe me, The Plan is based on real Delta murders and crimes. As someone who has lived in the Delta,I’ve been intrigued by the recent and unfortunate murder of Mississippi’s first, openly viable political candidate.

It might be helpful for readers to know that Clarksdale lies at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and is the place where music legend says that blues man Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unmatched guitar skills. In this blog, I mention several “dirty deeds” done in Clarksdale and around the state over the years, in the name of “economic progress,” but events that have done great harm to its black residents. So far, the story of this murder resonates to me, and I’ll continue to watch and report. Susan Klopfer, author.)

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In Clarksville, Mississippi, a young black gay mayoral candidate’s broken body was discovered dumped downhill from a Mississippi River levee this past February. Not much has happened in the investigation, causing friends and family members to push for a federal investigation of what they insist was a politically-based murder.

Marco MacMillian’s death is the most heinous of murders recently taking place in the Mississippi Delta, they insist. Clarksdale is the economic hub of a region in the United States with a chilling history of racial hatred. The lynching of young Emmett Till back in August of 1955 took place in a small toolshed in the small town of Drew, only 30 miles south of Clarksdale.

Somebody has to explain the torture MacMillian went through, including the burn marks on his body, attorney Daryl Parks recently insisted to CNN reporter Moni Basu. Parks represents MacMillian's family and his law firm represents Trayvon Martin's parents in Florida. MacMillian must have discovered information that had "some components of public corruption,” the lawyer states, adding this murder is “very serious.”

(Note: Here’s a major reason why this story has caught my attention: the plot of The Plan hangs on the murders of two black lawyers in the Deep South, one from Clarksdale and the other from Montgomery, Alabama, who are killed because they know too much about civil rights cold cases and Mississippi corruption. Both men had been collecting secret documents on various assassinations and other crimes taking place in Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Dallas, Texas. sk)

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Key Points in the Murder of Marco McMillian (to date)

 

  • Marco McMillian returned to his hometown in the Mississippi Delta to run for mayor
  • Before his campaign took off, he was killed, and rumors spread quickly
  • Some called it a hate crime because McMillian was a black man and openly gay
  • His family and friends believe McMillian found out unsavory things about Clarksdale

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An NAACP-sponsored town hall meeting over MacMillian's death took place in Clarksdale; four months had passed since the discovery of his body. The Coahoma County sheriff had not visited with McMillian's family or responded to a letter from McMillian's mother, Parks states.

The key suspect, Lawrence Reed, is behind bars at the County jail, awaiting a preliminary hearing in August. And yes, Reed is black. The sheriff's department says it has the right man in custody. But do they? Many people in the region say they support a federal investigation, because they don’t buy the sheriff’s findings.

Officially, little has been said in public by Sheriff Charles Jones about the murder, creating suspicion throughout this city that is historically divided by race and class. Rumors about MacMillian's death continue to swell, and some point to political corruption, suggesting he died because he knew too much.

The victim’s mother, Patricial Unger, has told reporters she is convinced there is more to MacMillian's killing than the one man being blamed for it, and she states that she has little confidence that local authorities will solve the mystery surrounding the death of her only child.

"Marco was brutally murdered. That much we know," said Carter Womack, MacMillian's godfather and spokesman for the family. Womack has been instrumental in raising the level of voices; explaining that if he doesn’t take on the role, “it’s just another black man dead in Mississippi."

This story has its beginnings when MacMillian recently returned to his hometown of Clarksdale and announced he was running for mayor, on a platform to reduce crime, improve educational opportunities and spur economic growth.

That would surely make sense, in this city with a shrinking population of 18,000, and where about 40% live below the poverty line, Many of Clarksdale's residents, are sick and tired of their lives, but were cheered by his campaign, believing MacMillian was the right man for the job.

The mayoral candidate had been missing for many hours when deputies discovered his body by a levee 20 miles west of town. Reed was found alone in the wreckage of MacMillian's SUV on the morning of February 26. Critically injured, he was taken to a Memphis hospital for treatment, Reed later reportedly confessed to police that he killed MacMillian and gave instructions where to find his body.

But had MacMillian discovered too much about his hometown? Some Clarksville residents believe so. “He was a black man who challenged the largely white establishment. I want to know why this isn't being called an assassination," Darrell Gillespie, a former classmate of McMillian's, told reporters.

The young candidate’s murder is so serious that his family’s attorney, Parks, says he is concerned about the family's welfare.

Some assert that MacMillian and Reed were sexually involved, that the killing was domestic violence. Or that Reed killed MacMillian in a fit of rage after the latter made sexual advances. Reed is not gay, his friends insist.

But MacMillian, described as Mississippi's first viable openly gay candidate, was likely killed because of his homosexuality in a state that has no hate crime laws to protect LGBT people. The story is being made out to be a modern-day civil rights case.

One recent media report even drew a parallel between McMillian's killing and that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was abducted, beaten and shot in August of 1955, after allegedly flirting with a white woman in Money, Miss. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River just 31 miles southeast of Clarksdale, in the tiny village of Glendora, and galvanized a then-fledgling civil rights movement. Rosa Parks heard the story in Montgomery, followed the Sumner, Miss. trial in which Till’s murderers were found innocent, and then decided to go ahead and take her stand, to sit at the front of a city bus.

Others say it isn’t appropriate to make this comparison. While MacMillian hadn't made his sexuality an issue in the mayoral campaign, nor had any of his opponents, there is a growing number of people who believe his murder was all about political corruption that MacMillian was about to uncover.

One close friend states that McMillian was ready “to put Clarksdale on the map.” The graduate from Jackson State University who went on to earn a master's degree in development and philanthropy from Saint Mary's University in Minnesota had the credentials to do this. His résumé was impressive.

As the international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and as an administrator at Jackson State and Alabama A&M, he’d moved to Memphis to work as a recruiter for New Leaders, an organization that trains school principals.

In 2009, MacMillian received the Thurgood Marshall Prestige Award, and in 2004, Ebony magazine recognized him as one of the nation's top leaders under 30. He liked to show off a photo of himself with a young Barack Obama.

But he’d also run into problems.: he was associated with a payroll scandal that ousted Alabama A&M President Robert Jennings, who was found to have hired McMillian in an executive assistant job though he was not qualified and not even present for a few weeks while he was finishing his master's.

According to CNN’s report, McMillian also started his own consulting firm for nonprofit organizations, though its website provided little information. When a reporter from the Clarksdale Press Register covering the mayoral race inquired about McMillian's business, McMillian cut him off, saying he was not required to answer those questions.

Some people who knew McMillian described him as pushy and arrogant. "He never took 'no' for an answer," Brad Fair, another Clarksdale mayoral candidate who'd known McMillian since their school days, was quoted as saying to reporters.

Fair said McMillian first promised to support him, but changed to become his primary opponent.

Fair ended up running as an independent so as to not compete for votes against McMillian in the Democratic primary. Fair lost in the general election.

McMillian's mother never understood why he returned to Clarksdale, in the first place.

“Why would you want to give up a good salary, your standing in life, and move back to this place?” she asked. His friends wondered the same thing, Basu wrote.

But McMillian’s explanation had been that he felt compelled to do something to help improve the quality of life in his hometown.

"Moving Clarksdale Forward" was Marco Macmillan’s campaign slogan. And he’d dreamed of running for Congress one day.

Fair has stated that McMillian may have discovered unsavory information about local politicians, whom some accuse of corruption and dysfunction in Clarksdale.

(Here is also where this story resonates, for me. Clarksdale has always had a horrid reputation for keeping its poor, black population “in its place.” When offered, for instance, to host a new college that would represent the Delta, various “important people” opposed this possibility, and the college, Delta State University, was instead built in Cleveland, 38 miles to the southwest. Then, years ago, in 1961, black leader Aaron Henry, who’d had his own business and his home bombed, led a massive Christmas boycott against downtown merchants, who wanted black business, but wouldn’t allow black customers to march in an annual parade. Henry was jailed. A lot of ugliness has gone on in this small city, and I have many stories to tell. SK)

"Marco was too smart for his own good," Fair said. "I am confident Marco knew the facts."

Fair could not name any specifics for Basu, but said the city has corruption.

"Look at our city. Look at how it's dying. Do we have corruption? Most definitely," he told the reporter.

Clarksdale residents, especially those of color, typically have not trusted local government.  Allegations of scandal that tainted the previous mayor did not help.

"Local government has failed us for the past 20 years," Angela Maddox, another childhood friend who worked on McMillian's campaign, stated. "I think there are powerful people who are in hiding. She also said that MacMillian’s murder rests “on what he was about to uncover.”

And Maddox joins others who assert that those wield power in Clarksdale wanted McMillian to take his ideas elsewhere.

She speaks of receiving text messages from McMillian several days before he was killed, and McMillian's "cell phone is part of the criminal investigation," Parks states.

You decide if these text messages spell trouble:

"Help me my dear love. Cause they are coming after me," he wrote on February 6.

"Who is coming after u?" responded Maddox.

"The White establishment," he said.

"What's being said? Maddox asked.

"Trying to buy me out of the race."

Maddox says she reported to the Coahoma County Sheriff's Department about the texts she received, but said that no one followed up on her call.

McMillian's mother joins Maddox in insisting that her son had also warned her that something bad might happen to him. He apparently warned her that if he got a call saying that he was missing or that my body was found in the woods somewhere, not to be surprised.

From Basu’s report: “These people are out to get me out of the race. I am uncovering stuff they do not want people to know about."

The story coming out is that late at night, on February 25, McMillian told his mother and stepfather that he was leaving their house to move the cars in the driveway.

He was set to drive to Memphis in the morning, where he still worked.

About the same time, in another house just a few blocks away on Grant Place, Lawrence Reed also went out the front door, recalled a friend of his.

McMillian's stepfather, Amos Unger, noticed his stepson was not at home, and became concerned.

It's not clear whether McMillian and Reed knew each other before that night. A friend of Reed's said the two were acquainted. McMillian's friends and family say, "no", Basu reports.

What happened between 10 p.m. February 25 and the arrest of Reed the next morning may not be known until a trial opens.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued a statement saying it had learned that Reed might use "gay panic" as his defense if and when he is tried. It's the same tactic that was used to defend the killers of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was tortured and killed near Laramie in 1998.

The so-called gay-panic defense argues that a defendant's assault against an LGBT person should be excused or classified as a lesser charge because the revelation of a victim's sexual orientation caused the perpetrator to lose control and turn violent.

In an effort to protect gay victims of heinous crimes, the American Bar Association recently passed a resolution that would make it harder for lawyers to use that defense.

But Reed's friend confided to CNN that Reed said he wanted to kill himself, because he’d had sex with MacMillian.

She said that she called 911 and told police what Reed had told her. CNN has apparently requested a copy of the transcript of the 911 call as well as Reed's arrest report and other documents pertaining to this case. The request is still pending and the sheriff did not respond to an interview request.

Reed was driving south, toward the Tallahatchie County line, when he hit an oncoming car head-on. Deputies responded to the accident about 8:30 a.m.

The driver of the other car, Chris Talley, told WMC-TV in Memphis he’d learned Reed told a deputy that he had killed someone the night before and dumped the body. The alleged confession was cited in an autopsy report.

Meanwhile, no one heard from MacMillian.

The next morning, MacMillian’s body was found and sent to Jackson for a state medical examiner to conduct an autopsy.

A local official told MacMillian’s mother that his body was dragged by a car approximately 30 to 40 yards. He also said one person could not have “done this.”

The sheriff did not come to the family’s home. No one approached her to see his room or computer, and no one from the victim assistance office contacted her, according to CNN.

MacMillian's family has released a statement asserting that McMillian had been tortured before he was killed. They also believe Reed had not acted alone. McMillian weighed 220 pounds. Reed is a small guy. They don’t believe that Reed could have done this by himself.

McMillian's funeral was held March 9, and by then many news reports were calling the murder a hate crime. But the family has told reporters they suspect a conspiracy of sorts.

The National Black Justice Coalition, that works to empower black LGBT people, said McMillian's death and the "ongoing investigation highlighted the complexity of life for openly gay black men in Mississippi."

Finally, on May 1, Mississippi Chief Medical Examiner Mark LeVaughn signed and released McMillian's autopsy report that concluded he died of asphyxiation, even though it has been reported there were multiple areas of blunt trauma to the head that are consistent with a beating and a chart showed burns on McMillian's calves, back, right arm and left hand, along with abrasions on his knee that were consistent with a "drag type" injury.

The autopsy raised more questions. How did he choke to death? There were no marks around his neck.

(Here we go again, a crappy, misleading, dishonest autopsy coming out of Mississippi. The recently retired state examiner had quite a national reputation. They also lose autopsy reports there, as well. When writing about murdered black, gay attorney Cleve McDowell, I managed to track down his autopsy, and not through the state. Missing was the ballistics report!! SK)

Shortly after the autopsy was released, McMillian's family held a news conference and demanded a federal investigation. MacMillians’ mother has written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to investigate the killing of her son.

She claims her son was beaten, dragged and burned.

In her letter, Unger described her son's warnings that he was in danger. The Justice Department has encouraged others in the community to send in their concerns.

Parks, the McMillian family attorney recently left George Zimmerman's trial in Florida to be in Clarksdale for a special meeting over this murder where the sheriff's spokesman read from a prepared statement.

Authorities have the right man in custody, he told the crowd, and there is no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.

"The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department is committed to building a case that's completely based on facts," Rooker says. "We can't allow ourselves to be influenced by gossip on social media."

Mrs. Unger asks everyone to write to a Department of Justice representative who has come to Clarksdale for this meeting. She is convinced outside help is needed to solve Marco McMillian's murder.

And so am I. Believe me.

In The Plan, an early chapter has “Clinton Moore” and his legal secretary, “Mollie Johnson” singing Nina Simone's civil rights anthem, "Mississippi Goddam." The scene is set back in 1971, following the murder of a high school girl on graduation night, over in Drew.

I’d say that Simone’s song still holds true.